With six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Chaparral senior quarterback Brayten Silbor knew he and his offense had a chance to not only run the clock but score a go-ahead touchdown.
The Firebirds methodically made their way down the field, resorting to the run game in order to burn as much time as possible in an effort to not give CJ Tiller and the Williams Field offense a chance.
Chaparral’s plan, for the most part, worked. Senior athlete Grady Hickey punched it in from 3 yards out to give the Firebirds the go-ahead score with a minute left. A few plays later into Williams Field’s drive, Tiller was picked off by Like Franze.
The interception — Tiller’s second of the night — clinched the 35-28 semifinal victory for Chaparral over the Black Hawks. It also allowed the Firebirds to advance to their second straight 6A Conference title game in an effort to defend their crown.
“I’m really proud of our guys,” Chaparral coach Brent Barnes said. “I really felt like we ran the ball well in the first half. We knew we could do it. But for them to finish like that, that’s how we wanted to finish.”
The two teams struggled to find a rhythm offensively throughout the first quarter. Silbor was picked off twice in the opening 12 minutes, the second while inside the Williams Field 4-yard line. It wasn’t until the midway point of the second quarter that Chaparral managed to find the end zone for the first points of the game.
The Firebirds capped off a 77-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Hickey. A punt by Williams Field followed by a turnover on downs by Chaparral allowed the Black Hawks to take advantage of a short field.
While rolling out to his right Tiller found Sjawn Hunter in the back of the end zone who out-jumped two defenders for the score. The half ended with the two teams tied and Silbor having thrown his third interception.
“We went into the locker room … we knew it was either lose or go home,” Silbor said. “We knew this would be it if we lost. We fixed things and we just knew we wanted it more. We went in there, came back out and executed.”
Both teams all season had high-powered offenses that could score at will. And that was finally put on display in the second half.
Tiller led the Black Hawks down the field and found star wideout Kyler Casper in the end zone from 10 yards out to take the lead. On its next possession, Chaparral answered with a 22-yard touchdown pass to Gavin Higley.
They weren’t done.
Williams Field again marched down the field and capped off a long drive with 1-yard plunge by running back Joshua Dye. Silbor quickly answered with a 52-yard strike to Lukas Garvey. A 5-yard touchdown run by running back Kaden Cloud again put Williams Field on top. But that didn’t last long as Chaparral running back Jamarei Ashby-phan found the end zone from 4 yards out.
After Chaparral’s defense forced a Williams Field punt, Silbor orchestrated the final drive that allowed Hickey to ultimately clinch the victory.
“I’ve been in this situation before and I just came up clutch when they needed me,” said Hickey, who caught 13 passes for 155 yards and had two total touchdowns. “I’m so excited. Couldn’t be happier.”
Silbor finished 23 of 34 for 356 yards and three touchdowns along with the three first-half interceptions. His passing yard total helped him become Chaparral’s all-time leading passer. His counterpart, Tiller, was 17 of 28 for 219 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Casper, Tiller’s top target, had eight receptions for 106 yards and a touchdown.
The win for the second-ranked Firebirds over the third-ranked Black Hawks sets up a rematch of last year’s 6A championship against top-ranked Highland, which knocked off Red Mountain in the other 6A semifinal. Barnes said he figured they would see a team like Highland or the Hawks themselves if they wanted to defend their championship.
And there’s no doubt in his mind Highland will come in with a chip on its shoulder from last year.
“To be honest, you never really love a rematch if you win the first one,” Barnes said. “We’ve had a chance to see film on them when they played teams we were going to play, and we could tell they were playing really good football. They’re a well-coached team with great players.
“I know they’re going to be coming pretty hard for us. I think both sides are going to want it the same.”
The 6A Conference championship game will take place Saturday, Dec. 11 at Sun Devil Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 12 p.m.